Missing persons – how you can help

When a relative or friend is reported missing the focus often centres on the investigation and the way in which the Police and the community are working together to locate the missing person. Once the report has been taken family members and friends may feel isolated, frustrated and helpless that they are not doing enough to help further.

Helping with the search

The following suggestions are useful if you wish to be more actively involved in the search process. It is recommended that you consult with Police or the search agency before undertaking any of the activities.

How to raise awareness about a missing person

  • Raise awareness by printing photographs of the missing person for distribution to the media for national publicity.
  • Create posters that can be displayed in and around the community. Include:
    • a photograph of the missing person
    • details of the last sighting of the missing person
    • a contact telephone number for the public to provide information. The most appropriate telephone number to display is the Police or search agency number, not a private number.
  • Distribute posters and photographs in public areas such as shopping centres, bus stops, railway stations, sporting and entertainment facilities, libraries, police stations, churches and community centres. Keep a list of where posters and photographs have been displayed.

Share information about a missing person

Any information you have relating to the missing person should be given to the Police investigating officer or search agency case manager.

The Police or search agency should be consulted about making a public appeal through the media.
Any information or specific details of any enquiries must be recorded.

What search agencies can and can't do

  • Contact the Salvation Army Family Tracing Service if you are trying to locate a family member or relative who you have lost contact with over time and there are no fears for their safety. This service helps bring families together through its wide international and local network.

    Visit the Salvation Army Family Tracing Service website.
  • The Red Cross can help to resolve the problem of people unaccounted for as a result of armed conflict or internal violence, and can assist their families.

    Visit the Red Cross website.
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT)
    Family and friends travelling or working overseas often fail to make contact after being in touch regularly. In many cases this is simply because they are in a location with unreliable postal and telecommunication services.

    What MFAT can do
    MFAT can help you contact someone through their network of overseas posts and links with other foreign missions, after you have exhausted all available avenues of enquiry and are genuinely concerned for their safety.

    What MFAT can't do
    MFAT will not help to find someone unless extensive searches have already been made. They will not help locate individuals involving temporary lack of contact, child custody, maintenance support, debt collection, or provide a tracing service for persons who have simply lost contact with friends or family overseas.

    Visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

What you can do on behalf of a missing person

When an investigation is being carried out, there are several things you could do on behalf of the missing person:

  • notify the missing person's employer, business, school or education facility
  • cancel any prearranged social engagements, business appointments or travel plans
  • ensure someone is looking after the missing person's house and pets and arrange for the mail to be collected if they live alone
  • make interim arrangements for outstanding bills, mortgage, rent, insurance or other financial obligations
  • If you notice any unusual activity in the missing person's bank accounts, tell Police.

Your own arrangements

Although the primary focus will be directed towards the investigation and search, your own personal matters need to be taken care of to enable some direction during this difficult time.

  • Advise your employer and discuss the possibility of taking some time off work.
  • When you have investigation and search commitments, arrange for close friends or relatives to take the children to and from school and take care of chores and meals.
  • Inform neighbours of the situation and alert them to the fact police and media will be present in the area.
  • Families of missing persons are often contacted by psychics and clairvoyants who may be genuinely trying to help. Do not feel obliged to deal with them. It may be more appropriate to refer them to the Police investigating officer or search agency case manager.